HOUSTON (AP) — When Roger Clemens pitches Saturday night for the Sugar Land Skeeters it will be the first time the 50-year-old has taken the mound in almost five years.
Will he still be the Rocket who intimidated hitters in the majors for more than 20 years? Or will his extended absence and age leave him struggling against players less skilled than the ones he used to face?
Clemens signed with the Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on Monday and he is expected to start for the minor league team on Saturday at home against Bridgeport.
"His fastball was clocked at 87 mph. All of his pitches were working," said Randy Hendricks, Clemens' agent. "He threw a three-inning simulated game after an extensive workout warmup."
Clemens and Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti have been talking about this "for months," Hendricks said. Clemens is expected to discuss his decision Tuesday during a news conference in Sugar Land, about 20 miles southwest of Houston.
His signing has some wondering if it is the first step in a return to the majors.
Minnesota Twins manager and fellow Texas Longhorn Ron Gardenhire cracked a joke when asked about Clemens on Monday.
"I'll take that Longhorn any day. I don't know all the rules, but I'll be tampering: We do have a spot, right?" Gardenhire said, chuckling.
Clemens, acquitted in June of charges he lied to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs, hasn't played for a team since pitching for the New York Yankees in 2007 at the age of 45. He went 6-6 in 18 games with a 4.18 ERA that season.
Texas Rangers pitcher Roy Oswalt, a former teammate of Clemens with the Astros, is excited about his friend's return to baseball.
"I think he's going to show everybody that all that stuff that he had to go through had nothing to do with the success he had in the big leagues," Oswalt said. "He said he's going to do it a little bit and see how his body responds. I wouldn't be surprised next year if he's pitching in the big leagues for somebody."
Clemens has been throwing batting practice to one of his sons often, and Oswalt said that Clemens "feels pretty good."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is three years younger than Clemens, said it is difficult to get that urge to compete out of your blood.
"He's always loved to compete," Girardi said of Clemens. "That's who he is. He kept coming back. There were times he felt he couldn't quite go a full season, but he gave it as much as he had. He loved to compete. That's a hard thing to replace is that competition. Guys miss it."
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